That was a great report, Banjoman! Looking forward to more. Fullofit - thanks for the news report! smile

Gentlemen, let me now introduce my new pilot, sous-lieutenant Bruno Berthier of Escadrille C 66!

***

8 October 1916. Plateau de Malzville, Escadrille C 66.

Sous-lieutenant Bruno Berthier quickly dusted off his dark blue chasseur uniform, made sure all his pockets were properly closed and then knocked on the door of capitaine Henri de Krillis.

Come in, the door is not locked! Berthier pushed the wooden door and entered the office of his new commanding officer. The room was small. It was dominated by a large oaken desk surrounded by a few simple chairs. The walls were covered with maps of the Western Front. Underneath them Berthier could see a faded reddish wallpaper with typical flower patterns from the previous century. The room was illuminated with light streaming in through a window on the wall next to the desk. Sitting behind it was a tall man with dark hair and a neatly trimmed moustache. He was wearing a simple bleu horizon uniform with a pair of golden pilot wings above his right breast pocket. Berthier saluted the captain.

Mon capitaine, I am sous-lieutenant Bruno Berthier. I was ordered to report to you for my assignment to your escadrille.

Ah, our latest aviator! Fresh from Avord, yes? Krillis flashed a warm smile at Berthier.

Yes, mon capitaine. I graduated only last week. The depot ordered me here a couple of days ago. I brought my records with me. Berthier approached the desk and handed a folder to Krillis.

Thank you. Please, sit down; I want to take a look at what youve been up to at Avord - and before!

With Berthier somewhat nervously sitting on a rather uncomfortable chair at the other side of the desk, Krillis started going through the documents. So youre from Normandy? Ah, and you served in the chasseurs! Of course - you have the dark blue uniform! You were planning a military career before the war?

Yes, I was in the 8e bataillon de chasseurs pied as the war broke out. Like all chasseurs, the battalion was acting as a covering force for the army during mobilization. We were among the first to encounter the hordes of the invading boche. Berthier was proud of his service and Kerllis could hear it in his voice.

We delayed the enemy advance throughout August 1914, and then participated in the counterattack on the Marne.

That is when you were wounded, yes? Krillis was quickly going through the service record of Berthier.

Yes, on the 12th of September. I was leading my platoon when we ran into a boche rear guard in a small copse of trees. Berthier raised his left leg in the air and pointed at it. I was hit by a rifle bullet - right here. He smiled somewhat wryly. Angered by this, my men chased the boche out of the woods. I dont think they bothered to take any prisoners.

I see you were mentioned in dispatches by the division. It must have been quite an engagement!" Krillis continued his reading.

It was. I tried to keep up with my men but couldnt. They had to bandage me and then carry me to the nearest aid station. Berthier grimaced. In the chaos of battle, it took a few hours. Not a pleasant memory, but I survived.

It was fortunate that you did! Theres a pretty long list of military hospitals in your record, Krillis looked up from the document, somewhat surprised.

Yes, mon capitaine. The leg was badly hurt and had to be operated multiple times. I spent over six months convalescing. I was fortunate that they didnt have to cut it off completely.

Indeed! And then you were transferred to a depot in Paris?

Yes. A chasseur must be able to run quickly. I no longer could, so they had no use for me on the front. Instead, I was given an office job in Paris. Krillis could see a fierce flash in Berthiers blue eyes.

I felt miserable there. Right from the very first day in the office. After spending a few weeks there pushing papers around, I thought I was going to lose my mind.

Many officers would gladly take a bullet in the leg for a transfer to a depot in Paris, Krillis looked Berthier in the eyes, studying his reaction.

Yes, mon capitaine. I guess Im not one of them. Berthier wasnt joking.

I can see you are not! Was it difficult to get accepted into the air force? Krillis was starting to like the young chasseur officer.

It took some effort. But I figured that having a bad leg wouldnt be such an obstacle for flying than it is for light infantry work. Apparently, I was able to convince them of that. Berthier was grinning happily now.

Krillis read through the rest of Berthiers record. Bruno had been accepted into pilot training in early 1916 and was assigned to the military flight school at Avord, which was among the largest of its kind in the whole world. He had been a good student, though not excellent, completing his training without any serious trouble.

I see you have experience from flying Caudrons? Berthier nodded. Trs bon! Now Escadrille 66 is currently equipped with the Caudron G.4, so you should fit in quite well here. Capitaine Krillis stood up and pushed his chair back. Then he turned to face one of the maps covering the walls and motioned for Berthier, who was already standing, to come look at it.

Pressing his finger on the map, Krillis proceeded to explain the situation to Berthier. Were here at Malzville - part of Groupe de bombardement 2, under Army Detachment Lorraine. Our sector extends from left here in the western area of Nancy to the line Epinal - Rambervillers - Badon on the right. The rest of the escadrilles are stationed at these fields

For several minutes, Krillis moved his finger around the map, tapping it on various locations and explaining which units and formations they contained, and how everything related to the military situation on the whole front. Berthier listened carefully, trying to memorize as many details as he could. Finally the captain finished his lecture and turned to face Berthier. He looked very serious now.

Berthier, my escadrille is considered to be one of the finest of its kind in the whole aronautique militaire. We take our business quite seriously, and expect the best from our officers and men. Do you think youre up to the challenge?

Without hesitation, Berthier replied: Mon capitaine, I will do my best!

Trs bon! Thats all I ask of my men! The captain smiled and then motioned with his hand toward the door. Now let us go and introduce you to the rest of the escadrille. Then we can get you properly started with a little practice flight, since the day is still young.

Krillis proceeded to leave the office with Berthier following him closely behind. As the two men stepped outside, they could see the sun shining brightly through a gap in the dark cloud cover of the early autumn.

Somewhere in the distance, a few guns boomed like thunder.



TO BE CONTINUED...


"Upon my word I've had as much excitement on a car as in the air, especially since the R.F.C. have had women drivers."

James McCudden, Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps